The Asian Voice

Another dark period in Philippine history: Inquirer columnist

In his commentary, the writer dwells on recent moves of the current Duterte administration that is undermining the faith people have had in the country's institutions and in his government.

The Philippines Congress has been reduced to an inferior branch of the government that is completely subservient to President Rodrigo Duterte.
The Philippines Congress has been reduced to an inferior branch of the government that is completely subservient to President Rodrigo Duterte. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Philippines is sliding back to another dark period in our history at the rate the government is destroying institutions that protect the people against abuses of power by our leaders.

After we ousted the Marcos dictatorship, we created or adopted institutions aimed at making our leaders accountable for any misuse of power.

These institutions include a Constitution with a strong Bill of Rights, a powerful Congress, an independent judiciary, an empowered Ombudsman, a vibrant and free press, and Philippine membership in the International Criminal Court. In less than two years, the Duterte administration has weakened all these institutions by undermining their ability to safeguard the people's welfare.

The government is working to render the Bill of Rights worthless, as a result of the methods it employs in its war on drugs.

Policemen are encouraged to make arrests and searches by doing away with the necessity of court-issued warrants, and they have been emboldened to perpetuate the killing of thousands of drug suspects under dubious claims of resisting arrest ("nanlaban"). The government is waging a virtual war against the Bill of Rights.

Congress has been reduced to an inferior branch of the government that is completely subservient to the President. The legislature fails to perform its constitutional role as a counterbalancing power whenever the President oversteps the limits of his authority.

It is true that Congress has always been submissive to an incumbent chief executive. But in the past, the Senate flexed muscle whenever a president got brazen in his or her ways. Regrettably, the current Senate is incapable of acts of brave defiance against the Duterte administration.

The administration's persecution-theatrics has needlessly undermined the genuine gripes of the judiciary against Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

The mischief of certain members of the House and the pointless meddling by the Solicitor General have overshadowed the legitimacy of the grievances against the Chief Justice.

As a result, the telling significance of the unanimous interdiction of the associate justices -including Justice Marvic Leonen, a long-time ally of the Chief Justice-for her to take an indefinite leave has been muddled by the unnecessary brouhaha.

The refusal of the administration-controlled Congress to implement the decisions of the Ombudsman dismissing or suspending members of Congress has undermined the valiant work of the graft-busting office to make powerful politicians liable for corrupt practices.

For her fearless efforts, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has repeatedly been badgered with threats of impeachment by the administration.

The freedom of the press is emasculated by the government's maltreatment of the media organisation Rappler that is critical of its actions.

Rappler's reporter has been banned from covering events attended by the President, and it faces a trumped-up criminal charge for cyberlibel, among other forms of harassment. Rappler is presented as Exhibit A to serve as warning to media organisations who displease administration leaders.

The most recent act committed by the administration to undermine the safeguards against abuse of power is the withdrawal of the Philippines' membership in the International Criminal Court.

All the safeguards earlier mentioned involve domestic institutions that are within reach of manipulation by a misbehaving administration.

Recourse to the International Criminal Court serves as the Filipino people's last resort to make our leaders liable in case all the domestic safeguards are compromised.

The President has not secured immunity for himself by withdrawing the Philippines' membership in the International Criminal Court, because the withdrawal takes effect one year from now, at best.

All he has managed to do is disable his people from obtaining a remedy from the international tribunal against the wayward ways of the future leaders of this country.

Another period of dark days is ahead for long-suffering Filipinos.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 news media entities.